Scrivener: 3 Reasons You Should Use It For Your Book

I used Scrivener for my latest book, Prophecy. It’s been a truly life-changing experience after the dreadful cutting and pasting process in MS Word that plagued my last novel, Pentecost. I am now entirely converted and am also an evangelist for the product.

I used Scrivener happily without reading the Help (because I hate reading the Help) but then I found David Hewson’s ‘Writing a Novel with Scrivener‘ which I highly recommend. It will convert you and make your writing life a whole lot easier, I promise!

Here are 3 reasons you should be using Scrivener (which is on Mac and PC now so you have no excuse.) It’s just US$49 and you can use it for all your books, fiction and non-fiction as well as academic publications and loads more. No, I’m not an affiliate but I truly do believe in the product!

(1) You can write in scenes then drag and drop to re-order.

If this was the only feature of Scrivener, it would still be enough for me!

I write in sporadic scenes, not in a linear fashion so the final scene is often one of the first I write. I’m already plotting novel #3 and have maybe 5 scenes I could set down right now, but I wouldn’t have a clue where they go in the story yet.

So for the Prophecy work in progress I had all these scenes but it was only in the 2nd edit that I decided on the order they needed to go in. Scrivener makes it easy to drag and drop the scenes to re-order the scenes. There’s no cutting and pasting and no huge Word files to manipulate.

I also like the cork-board view of the scenes. If you use index cards, you’ll be at home here!

(2) Auto-create Kindle and ePub files.

This is a game-changer.

Compiling for .mobi

You can now create your own ebooks by compiling and exporting from Scrivener which is under $50, which once paid you can use over and over again. You obviously need to check your created files carefully but for plain text novels with little complications, this is a no-brainer.

I still recommend using professional formatters if you have complicated books or lots of images, but for basic books, you can just use Scrivener. This is also great for providing files to beta-readers and for reviewing your book in the way many will now consume it. You can also export to Doc and other formats including Latex if you want to format in more complicated ways.

The point behind Scrivener is that book length works can be complicated and easier to write in chunks, but when you want to submit them you need it in one document. Scrivener compiles them based on how you have structured your Parts/ Chapters/ Scenes and also by how you define the compile and export settings. There are preset defaults but you can also customize, and there are lots of helpful videos and a forum in case you have trouble.

I have just added a video to my ProWriter: Secrets of Independent Publishing course that shows you how to do this if you’re interested in more detail.

(3) Project Binders can also hold notes, research, pictures and more so you have one place for the whole ecosystem of your book

There is one manuscript/draft folder within your Scrivener project and then there are other folders which aren’t compiled into the final document. You can use these for research or for character sketches, for pictures and other associated media as well as pasting scenes you don’t know what to do with (I do that a lot).

You can also split the screen while you are writing so you can reference the notes at the same time as writing text. I use a great deal of art history in my books so having the painting or image in the split screen is useful so I get the details right.

One memorable image is the Escher print of angels and demons (shown right) which is on the wall of a character’s study. It was great to be able to see it on the page as I wrote.

Using Scrivener for my own novel, Prophecy

My own process for Prophecy has been as follows:

* Write first draft scenes in Write Or Die or Pages app on the iPad which I use for writing in the library and out of the house. I have found this the most effective way to write fiction now since my home office is orientated towards podcasts, interviews, videos, product creation and the business of The Creative Penn. I need a different space for making stuff up.

* Paste the scenes into Scrivener and move them around as well as revise scene by scene within the program. It’s easier to revise on bite-size chunks like scenes.

* At the end of every day, compile and export a .doc file which I email to myself on Gmail so I always have a backup of my work. Gmail is online storage so you’ll always be able to find this again. I also back on an external hard-drive and monthly on Amazon S3 cloud storage (paranoid, me??)

* After the first draft is completed, I compile the full .doc and print it out. Read, scribble, self-edit, destroy, rework. Write some more scenes and fill in the blanks.

* Edit full 2nd draft on Scrivener and repeat print and self-edit, then repeat print and self-edit until satisfied

* When I’m finally happy with the draft, I distribute to my editor to review and provide feedback. Then I make changes and send to beta readers.

* Make changes on Scrivener and compile for the final time and output for Kindle and submission to Smashwords.

Once you have the master project saved, you can always go back and make any changes and recompile. It’s a brilliant system and I am definitely going to keep using Scrivener. I can’t imagine writing without it now and in 2012, I will also be revising my non-fiction work using it too.

Are you a Scrivener convert? Do you have any questions about it?

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  1. says

    I’m off to try the trial version now. Appreciate reading all the comments and feedback here. Wish I’d found this for my first book. Hoping this makes life easier with the second! Thanks Joanna-again for the information.

  2. says

    Hi Joanna! Searching the web tonight for an answer to a Scrivener question and came upon your post. I think I may understand from your last paragraphs on compiling what the answer is to my query. I’m assuming that when compiling, your documents stay on Scrivener and the compiled document is a copy of those, right? Then once edits are made, do you simply import back to Scrivener? And if that’s correct, do you assign a new name, folder, document, how exactly to you handle that compiled and edited doc? Inquiring mind here wants to know before I compile my ms for the first time!

    • says

      Hi Sherrey,
      Compiling creates a new file – and you choose which type – e.g. mobi for Kindle, ePub, PDF, Word etc. The originals all stay in Scrivener. I then make any changes in the Scrivener document and then re-compile. It’s not a big deal – so best to just play with it.
      All the best.

  3. Tony says

    Hi Joanna

    I just published my Ebook to KDP. I would like to add another page to the Ebook, can I do that with Scrivener and upload it back to KDP? In other words what would be the easiest way to add a page to an already self published Ebook on KDP?

    Thanks, Tony

  4. says

    Okay Joanna, you sold me on Scrivener, I’ve just bought it and; after reading the functions and features of Scrivener, in your eulogy :-), I was pleasantly surprised at the relatively low cost of it. I have bought and used other more expensive ‘writing software’, and all of them have their plusses and minuses; however, none of them have the wide range of functions and features that Scrivener has.

    Now, all I have to do is teach myself how to use the darn thing!

    Ian McKay M A.

  5. says

    Hi Joanna – I’ve been following you since you did a webinar awhile back. I’ve really enjoyed your tips and insights. I am curious about the ability to do interior design within Scrivener. I’ve been exploring it, and it doesn’t look like there is much capability to do anything fancy within the text.

    Do you know any more about this?



    • Aaron Anderson says

      Well? How’s it going?

      The learning curve is what concerns me most, but I think it’s complexity is an indicator of its power, once mastered.

  6. Aaron Anderson says

    Nothing here tells me of the “learning curve”. How long would it take for me to learn Scrivener well enough to be productive? (For example, in the task of writing a novel?)

    • Joanna Penn says

      When I first bought it, I just started to use it straight away – it has tutorial videos as well.
      For just writing, you just write. The part when you need more help is when you’re compiling files to publish.

  7. says

    Joanna Penn,

    This is the best explanation for a Scrivener user, that is available online. I have been using Scrivener since November 2014 and with each writing experience utilizing Scrivener, I’m becoming keenly aware, writing will forever be apart of my second career as a retiree.

    Thank you so much Joanna, for producing a great site with incredible amounts of information.


  1. […] beginner with it, but I can see myself using it for every writing project I embark on from now on. Joanna’s article gives you plenty of reason to give it a try […]

  2. […] I wax lyrical about Scrivener all the time, but it has some cool productivity tools. You can set Project Targets, so 50,000 words for example, and you can also set Session Targets, so mine is set at 2000 words. Every time you sit down to write, you can have those targets floating by your work and the progress bar moves so you can see how its going. Very motivating. […]

  3. […] I wax lyrical about Scrivener all the time, but it has some cool productivity tools. You can set Project Targets, so 50,000 words for example, and you can also set Session Targets, so mine is set at 2000 words. Every time you sit down to write, you can have those targets floating by your work and the progress bar moves so you can see how its going. Very motivating. […]

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